Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Losing Your Salvation
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 1 John 2:19NKJ
Question 79 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?" It gives the answer, "True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." Last week we considered how sanctification is always imperfect in this life. This week we look at the great doctrine of the perseverance of the saints: that all true believers cannot and will not lose their salvation.
Notice right from the start that this question is addressing true believers. Not people who say they believe but actually do not, but people who really and truly trust in Jesus Christ for their righteousness and forgiveness before a holy God. We know from Scripture that the moment a person believes in Christ he has everlasting life (John 3:16). He is saved, or as the Catechism puts it, he is in a state of grace. Thus, the topic of this question is can a person who is saved lose that salvation? In other words, is it possible for a man to outlive his faith? If a man has real and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is bound for heaven, can that same man come to such a place where he no longer believes and is bound for hell? Can there be such a man?
Before we answer, observe how today's question affirms that true believers are imperfect, and that they have "many temptations and sins" with which "they are overtaken." It is certainly conceivable that a believer who remains a sinner, and thus often does wrong things against his profession, would stop believing. Plus, we must admit that even apart from sin people often change their minds about the things they believe over the course of their lives. And most difficult of all there are many people who at one time professed to be believers in Christ but now deny Him. How do we know they were not truly believers? Why should we hold that true believers in Christ cannot fall away from their faith and become unbelievers? The Catechism's ultimate answer is found in the repeated teaching of Scripture that true believers "are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." Everything else in the answer can be reduced to this syllogism: God keeps believers by His power. God's power is greater than all. Therefore, true believers cannot lose their salvation because they are kept by the power of God.
Thus, God's unchangeable love for His children, being all-powerful, they cannot lose their salvation. God has decreed (purposed) and covenanted to give believers perseverance, therefore they cannot lose their salvation. God has united them to Christ, who can tear them apart? Christ continually intercedes for God to save true believers, who can turn away God's ear? God's Spirit is in us to keep us believing and repenting, what sin can overpower Him? Beloved, a lot of arguments and passages of Scripture could be set forth, which clearly teach and prove that we cannot lose our salvation, but it all really comes down to this: God saves us by His power, which is absolute, unchanging, and everlasting, therefore we most certainly will be saved. How does God preserve us by His power? God keeps His children "through faith unto salvation." That means that God keeps your faith alive. If you are a Christian you really believe in Christ, and by that faith you are forgiven and accounted righteous before Him. Since we often change our minds about many things, how is it that believers in Jesus will never stop believing in Him? By God's power not ours! If we were dependent for salvation upon the strength of our resolve or on the steadfastness of our commitment, surely we would all fall away. But even though we all often fall into gross sin throughout our lives, the Catechism asserts the truth of Scripture that we "can neither totally nor finally fall away." The righteous may fall seven times, but he always gets up again (Pro. 24:16). Those who do totally and finally "fall away" are in the category described by the verse at the head of this article: they went out from us to show that they were never truly of us. That is, those who apostatize from the Christian faith were never true believers in the first place, for the true believer is kept not by his own power but he is "kept by the power of God," (1 Pet. 1:5)!